By Madi Jobarteh
Section 25 sub-section 1(d) of the Gambia Constitution purposely states that everyone shall have the right to freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms. This is an entrenched clause that no person, authority or institution in the Gambia has the power to change except the people themselves through a referendum. Therefore the right to demonstrate is a fundamental human right guaranteed in our Constitution that must be upheld.
Public demonstrations or assemblies or street protests are good for a country as they are the most potent and immediate tools in the hands of citizens to effect change in their society. With protests, citizens are able to make a government reverse decisions or make private companies abandon business malpractices or force a government to take up new actions or decisions or make public institutions become more efficient – all in the best interest of the people.
Protests help to make the government open, efficient and effective. Protests help to awaken citizens to their responsibilities and remind them to stand up to defend their rights and welfare. Protests make sure legitimate issues and concerns are not neglected as they bring them to the forefront. Protests help to shed light on the conditions of vulnerable populations to confront exclusion, discrimination and neglect by either the government or society itself as a whole. Protest is exercise of power by the people.
Protests are effective measures that expose and combat corruption, poor delivery of social services and abuse of power and ineptitude inside the government, private sector or NGOS and in the whole of society. Protests seek to bring to light negative or bad practices, attitudes or bad products as well as bigotry to protect women, children, persons with disability or elders, etc.
Therefore protests are good for society. Protests helps a genuine leadership and public officers to see and feel and understand the issues and concerns of citizens so that they can better respond to those concerns. Protests serve to therefore help a government to be more efficient, effective and responsible. Protests test the quality and strength of a government thereby enabling it to better improve its institutions, operations and performance.
For example we cannot tell how well the police are capable of crowd control if we do not protest for them to respond to that protest. How well they manage that protest determines how well our police are capable. Protests therefore build the experience and expertise of public institutions to perform their functions.
In other words, protests serve as a test of the quality of our governance and development institutions, systems and structures at both local and central levels hence determine how good or bad our democracy is. For that matter, no genuine government should be afraid of protests in anyway. Rather a genuine government must welcome protests as a quality assurance exercise from which the government can learn lot of lessons to improve itself.
For citizens, we must realise that this Barrow Government was born out of protests. First it was the Solo Sandeng Protest that gave birth to the Ousainou Darboe Protest which also gave birth to the Fatoumatta Tambajang Protest and the Broom and Kalama Revolution which eventually gave birth to the Coalition Convention that produced the Coalition Candidate Adama Barrow who then won the elections on 1st December 2016. Hence this Government is a child of Protests.But even before the Solo Sandeng Protest, Gambians have been protesting in various ways inside the Gambia and abroad over the years. Our citizens, communities and their associations have been speaking out and writing in newspapers or radio and on social media, going to court, resigning from their jobs, fleeing the country and marching in the streets of the Gambia all in protest against the way and manner this country was misruled by Yaya Jammeh.
Therefore let us welcome protests as a means to keep the government on its toes bearing in mind that if we relax and let government be as it likes then we will make that government fail its obligations. When a government fails its obligations it means our rights will be violated, public services will be erratic, corruption will take place and we will live miserable lives.
We may not agree with every protest or protester but let us allow each and every citizen who wishes to protest to have the space and protection to protest. Let us understand it is these protests that will strengthen our democracy, ensure peace and stability and make our society better. Protests make people to release their frustration or anger out of their chest hence prevent any violent intentions or actions.